Last year I introduced an occasional feature I call “Throwback Thursday.” This is where I find a blog post from the past–raiding either my own vault or someone else’s–and throw it back out into the digital world. This might be an idea or book that is now relevant again, or a concept I’d like to think about more, or even “an oldie but a goodie” that I think needs a bit of spin time.
I have been doing some digging in the digital stacks lately, curious about what others have said about C.S. Lewis. Part of this (in a very long view) is finding more resources for my next chronological C.S. Lewis reading. Particularly when Lewis is responding to something or is engaged in a dialogue, I want to see the other pieces. Part of what we do as readers of historical figures is to draw conclusions about one end of a telephone conversation. Sometimes, though, there are ways to hear the other voice. This is one little piece of that, some activity about C.S. Lewis in the influential Christian Century. There is a bit of a recovery of C.S. Lewis in more mainstream Christian communities so I will be curious what The Christian Century will do in this century to come.
I am pleased to be listed in the CCblogs Network (you can see the little logo to the left). This is a blogging community hosted by The Christian Century, an American magazine that highlights Christian faith and practice on the progressive, mainstream, and liberal spectrum in North America. Over the last century or so, contributors to The Christian Century include Martin E. Marty, James M. Wall, Jane Addams, Reinhold Niebuhr, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard John Neuhaus, Rodney Clapp, Philip Jenkins, Carol Howard Merritt, Carol Zaleski, Walter Brueggemann, Barbara Brown Taylor, Albert Schweitzer, and Will Willimon.
And C.S. Lewis, though only in a single conversation: the famous Pittenger-Lewis exchange in 1958. In this debate Lewis gave his famous mission statement as an apologist (developed out of his “Christian Apologetics” talk in 1945):
When I began [writing Christian books], Christianity came before foe great mass of my unbelieving fellow-countrymen either in the highly emotional form offered by revivalists or in foe unintelligible language of highly cultured clergymen. Most men were reached by neither. My task was therefore simply that of a translator—one turning Christian doctrine, or what he believed to be such, into the vernacular, into language that unscholarly people would attend to and could understand (“Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger,” The Christian Century (Dec 31, 1951): 1361).
This “rejoinder” to Dr. Pittenger, an apologetics professor at General Theological Seminary in New York City, is a response to a scathing note by Pittenger about the damage that C.S. Lewis’ works do to the theological conversation. Though some consider Lewis pretty liberal, Lewis’ response highlights some of problems Lewis had with modern biblical criticism and liberal theology as starting points for talking about Jesus. The conversation continued a little in letters to the editor, but the two men were really approaching faith from different angles, and would not be satisfied with either one’s project.
Christianity Today had begun in 1956 because of some of the same concerns that Lewis had about some of the more dominant conversations in mainstream Protestantism, in this case focussing on America. Although Lewis’ position is almost as distant from the conservative evangelicals of Christianity Today in that he rejects a biblical inerrancy position and presumes evolutionary history in his writing, there is perhaps more overlap in Christian expression here. Christianity Today founding editor Carl F.H. Henry invited Lewis to contribute in the magazine’s first year (see Lewis’ letter of Sept 28, 1955). Lewis responded that he did not see himself writing Christian ideas straight on, for that approach had failed in the past. Not long after, Lewis would succeed in writing like this, producing Reflection on the Psalms in 1957 and Letters to Malcolm not long before he died.
Throughout the years both magazines have included conversations about C.S. Lewis, his work, and his influence. The Christian Century has a fairly broad readership, and we see both complementary work and things on the more critical side. As an example of the latter, see Dr. Stanley Rosenbaum’s 1983 “Our Own Silly Faces: C.S. Lewis on the Psalms.” He critiques Lewis (quite rightly) for a lack of Hebrew and Judaic understanding. He also says that Reflections on the Psalms’ “tone reflects the same smug triumphalism that is found in Lewis’s better-known works” (The Christian Century C (May 18, 1983): 486). But it was also in these pages that I found out that poet W.H. Auden was recommending The Screwtape Letters to his priest (see George C. Anderson, “C.S. Lewis: Foe of Humanism,” The Christian Century LX (Dec 25, 1945): 1562-1563).
I also discovered, while peeking around in some old issues, an advertisement with Lewis mentioned. This ad (see the pic to the left, below) shows some of the kinds of authors Christian Century subscribers were reading “in the quiet of the study.” While not all have survived as leading figures, we see the kind of breadth that is there.
C.S. Lewis (1898-1963): A popular British Christian public intellectual, this Cambridge professor had become popular as a Christian apologist and controversialist. Recently his academic career had excelled as was also gaining fame as a children’s author.
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971): Mentioned in the same article as Auden and Lewis, Niebuhr may have been the leading Christian voice in America in the 1940s and 1950s. A Neo-orthodox Christian thinker, he was able to integrate Christian thought, political and social theory, and cultural criticism. He is still read by Presidents today. Niebuhr penned the famous Serenity Prayer, and is the brother of the clear thinking cultural theologian, H. Richard Niebuhr.
Hugh T. Kerr (1909-1992): Dr. Kerry spent all of his professional life in Princeton. He was the Benjamin B. Warfield Professor of Theology for 25 years, and edited Theology Today until he died. Kerr was interested in ecumenical connections, his essays were perhaps his most well known work.
Wayne E. Oates (1917-1999): A professor of psychology and religion, Dr. Oates coined the word “workoholic.” An interdisciplinary scholar before it was academically acceptable, Oates had a unique sense for the connections between pastoral issues and mental health.
E. William Muehl (1915-2014): A long-serving professor of homiletics at Yale Divinity School, Muehl actually began his career as a lawyer. He spent his career blending the skills of public speaking an social action.
W. Clark Ellzey (1906-1991): Ellzey wrote popular books about how to keep romance in marriage. I know nothing else about him other than that he had a handsome moustache.
I am pleased to be included in the Christian Century blogging community, and the chance that it suggested to me to peek around at some of the 1950s context I’m reading about.